Tyler Hubbard-Neil has earned a partial scholarship to play his favorite sport in college.
For the past four years, the senior has excelled on the track, basketball court and soccer field at St. Philip – but he won’t be playing any of those sports at Siena Heights University, where he will attend school next year.
Hubbard-Neil, like so many St. Philip athletes before him, will take his athletic abilities to the volleyball court.
His sport of choice may come as a surprise to some, since he was a Battle Creek Enquirer All-City basketball player, an All-Conference soccer player and impressive runner and high-jumper for the Tigers.
Plus, there is not a boys’ high school volleyball team at St. Philip and there isn’t such a team at any of the high schools in the Battle Creek area. In fact, boys’ high school volleyball is not a sport recognized by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
But those who know Hubbard-Neil, and the success his sisters have had on the volleyball court, know this path makes a lot of sense for him.
Twin sister Sierra won four consecutive state championships at St. Philip, was a Miss Volleyball finalist and will play at Western Michigan University next year. Older sister Ryian also won four straight state titles and is a junior defensive specialist at Michigan State University. Oldest sister Ashleigh Hubbard was a standout at Battle Creek Central before playing at Saginaw Valley State.
“At a young age, with my sisters being involved in club volleyball, I just wanted to work with them, and anything they were doing I wanted to do,” said Hubbard-Neil. “There’s a lot of competition. We always wanted to see who can be the best one.”
At the age of eight Hubbard-Neil got his first taste of playing organized volleyball with the BC Danger co-ed club team.
That’s when he said he first fell in love with the game. But by the time Hubbard-Neil was 10 years old he was out of options for a local or regional volleyball team that allowed boys to play. There are no boys’ high school volleyball teams in Michigan and the closest club teams Hubbard-Neil said he knows of are in Grand Rapids, Indiana or Illinois.
Despite not playing for a volleyball team, Hubbrd-Neil said he kept his skills sharp by watching film and hitting around with his sisters. When St. Philip made its playoff run to the girls’ volleyball state championships this season, coach Vicki Groat asked Hubbard-Neil to practice with the team and he gladly obliged.
On Jan. 10, Hubbard-Neil took a school visit to Siena Heights where he was allowed to scrimmage with the men’s volleyball team. He committed to the school that same day.
“The coaches and players were all really welcoming and the fact that I could play volleyball on a team was great,” he said.
While Hubbard-Neil hasn’t had much practice with volleyball in a team setting, Siena Heights’ head volleyball coach Mike Watkins believes the skillsets Hubbard-Neil acquired while playing other organized sports in high school will help him succeed on the volleyball court at the college level.
“I think the nice thing about guys’ volleyball is it’s more about athleticism than anything else,” Watkins said. “It’s more about jumping, blocking and attacking, where in girls’ volleyball it’s a little bit more about technique and strategy.”
Watkins expects Hubbard-Neil to help the Saints, who play in the NAIA, right away.
“He’s athletic and has a great background in volleyball, so he’s a unique situation,” Watkins said. “He’s got the basic skills, so he’s definitely going to make us a deeper team as a freshman, whether it’s challenging someone or taking someone’s position. We’re definitely looking at him as a contributor right away.”
Siena Heights, located in Adrian, finished this year’s season with a 5-18 record so Hubbard-Neil very well might see extensive action as a freshman on a rebuilding team. He said despite not playing much organized volleyball he thinks he has the versatility to help the team move closer to a league title.
“I think doing track and soccer has really helped with my footwork and basketball gives me the aggressive mindset that you need to have, especially on defense,” he said. “Defense wins championships in every sport and, in volleyball, defense has to be solid every point, every match.”